How do you generally respond to the strategic and operational problems in your business? I meet business owners all the time who seize every resource at their disposal, except for a very important one – the staff working a few metres away from them. They rely on their own expertise (which is sometimes inadequate), count on their relationships with suppliers, hire consultants and complain to their family. When asked about their staff, the typical responses are that they lack experience, don’t understand business, are consistently incompetent and that they are ultimately responsible for the business’ problems! Depending on the situation, these responses point to shortcomings in recruitment, the employment relationship, management style, training and performance.
While you may lack the time or money to comprehensively address these, you can still take a giant leap this month. It comes down to allowing every employee, from the tea lady to the MBA manager, the opportunity to fully participate in your business. Sure, they all have a ‘job’ with roles and responsibilities and they are on the receiving end of your ‘instructions’. But are they fully participating in your business with the best of their talents?
Let’s use the problem of raising finance for expansion as an example. Instead of you preparing the business plan with no or minimal involvement from staff, what if you managed it as a ‘mini project’ and carried out the following:
• Allocated responsibilities to staff for the different components,
• Held regular meetings to discuss the business, the proposed expansion and sources of finance,
• Encouraged staff to provide bold ideas, debate the tough issues and give honest feedback,
• Allowed staff to use their social and professional networks for additional information and contacts,
• Used the process to educate them on business and financial issues,
• Took a group of them to your deliberations with external providers,
• Rated their individual performance at the close of the project, and
• Celebrated the success with them on the day you secured funding…?
By allowing employees the opportunity to fully participate, by training them on the job about your business, and by tracking their performance and recognising their contributions, you enhance the employment relationship by fostering trust. At the same time, you bring the collective mind power of your workforce to bear on a thorny problem. And you may just sleep a little easier at night knowing that whatever problems you encounter, you have the people to help resolve it.
(Entrepreneur.co.za, July 2006)